#5onFri: Five Productivity Hacks for Writers

by Adam Simone
published in Writing

I’m a self-described builder, a maker of things. I’ve been working on a tool to help my writing, it’s a notebook fused with workbook combined with productivity hack. I call it INDITE and it’s currently funding on Indiegogo. I’d love it if you could check it out right here.

While working on this special writers notebook, I spent a lot of time thinking about productivity in my own writing. So I wanted to compile a blog-post about writing productivity. During my field research, I queried a lovely online community about ways they stay productive in their writing. What I think is notable about their help is that this wasn’t a writers group, rather an entrepreneurship group. Productivity is a universal challenge whether you are writing copy for a job, starting a business, building a client list or writing your next great story.

I’d love your feedback on this. And I want to hear your unusual productivity hacks. Now, on to the list!

1) Lock out the internet

When you don’t need the internet for research, it’s a distraction. It is simply challenging for many writers to resist checking their email, or their social network pages, when they spend the vast majority of their time on their computer (often in isolation).

My first productivity tip is to deploy a special class of software that will lock you out of the internet while you write. Does it sound blasphemous? I hate to break it to you, it isn’t. Define a set of hours to literally prevent you from alt-tabbing over to your web browser and you’ll find that you break less from you writing. You stay more focused throughout the day when that temptation is removed.

Never heard of these programs? Here are a couple popular ones that you should check out.

Used by more than 250,000 people around the globe, Freedom is a wildly flexible platform that can cover all of your computer and mobile devices. You can create specific websites to block, schedule times of the day for blackouts, or just set up a ‘do not disturb’ sign and block the entire internet. It is free to try, and after that it will cost you a couple bucks a month (there are a few different plans available).

Identify the sites that waste your time, and turn them off when you need to focus and remain productive.  It is made by the same folks who produce Freedom, but a little softer on the intensity of the blocking, and the feature set available. It can be had for $15 with a 60 day money back guarantee.

2) Warm up your writing muscles

If you’re going to run a marathon, you don’t just wake up and start running (okay… I don’t just wake up and start running). No, instead you do some warmups and stretches to get your muscles ready to work. I think that the same could be said for writing.

There are a lot of different ways to warm up your creative writing muscles, or to fight a block when you’re unsure where to go next. Next time you are feeling a little unproductive, give this a try.

Open up a book that you have on your shelf, a book that you love, and start typing out the words on the page. Type through 500 or 750 words through your favorite passage. This is going to distract your mind from spinning on your own work, and get the muscle memory activated. When you’ve successfully warmed up your fingers, and given your mind a distraction, you might find it ready to come back and tackle your own work.

3) When you can’t write, speak

Pretty soon, with the proliferation of voice-activated technology pervading our homes and devices, the world will be awash with voices talking to no one. So why not just jump on this train early?

A great way to stay productive on your writing is to expand the available hours that you can produce words. While the more purists among us might suggest you’re not writing if you’re not sitting in front of your computer (or typewriter… or pen and paper… or stone tablet…) I think that writing as a profession and as a hobby evolves with the technology around it.

Therefore, why not write with your voice? Grab the extra 30 or 45 minutes during the day when you could be talking into your phone the next passage you were going to write tomorrow? If you can find some dictation app or software for your computer, phone or mobile device than it can turn your voice into text.

There are a lot of different dictation apps out there. Evernote has a voice dictation function. Outside of that, if you have an Android phone then check out Dictandroid. If you have either iOS or Android, Dragon Dictation which is a godsend for those of us who like to think aloud. JOTOMI is a nice feature-rich app, but it’ll cost more than the others ($12). Finally, I’ve used and enjoyed ALON Dictaphone Super Note Taker (quite the catchy name, eh?).

Hot tip: if you don’t want to look like you’re just talking to yourself in public, hold your phone up to your ear and pause every now and then as if you’re letting someone else talk. But don’t let societal conventions keep you from being the productive writer I know you can be.

4) Don’t write

I’m nothing if not inconsistent. I’m going to offer this unusual tip for staying a productive writer: Don’t Write.

Here’s what I mean by that. When you’ve hit a wall or when you notice your words-per-hour rate start dropping below what you’d like to see, stop writing. I gave this one a try against my better judgment this last week and really loved what it did for me. I tried to take three breaks throughout my writing time to sit in silence. The person who suggested this to me said that she doesn’t meditate, doesn’t move, just sits silently. But she’s not doing ‘nothing,’ she’s actually trying to listen. I’ve found this most effective when I’m writing outside of my house, where my home office is sound insulated (especially in the winter). If I’m at a coffee shop, or outside, the listening is really powerful. Try it next time you hit a road block, or even if you’re on a roll. Stop, sit still, and listen for five minutes to the world going on around you.

What I suspect might happen is that you’ll notice something subtle and beautiful in the world around you. It’s refreshing. The more I try it, I think that this tactic will help me to sustain long writing sessions.

5) Read it… in reverse

Not every productivity tip needs to focus on the writing portion of writing. I like to stay productive when I’m editing my work too. I’m a notoriously bad speller and often get swept up in the memory of what I should have written, opposed to what I did write. A lot of people suffer from this personal blindness when they’re reading and editing their own work.

Next time you’re editing, pick a chapter and read it in reverse. I don’t mean read each word in reverse order. What I mean is, take the last paragraph and read it through to the end. Then take the next-to-last paragraph and read that through. Then the paragraph before that and so on. What this is going to do is take you out of the flow of the story, where your own mind knows what’s supposed to come next, and allow you to focus on the task at hand.

This technique can be useful for both line-editing and copy-editing. The point is to stay productive and work through your pages efficiently and effectively. Breaking the routine of the flow of the story can be a helpful trick for this.

There we have it. My five crowdsourced productivity hacks for writers. I’d love to hear your thoughts and other tips that you would like to share in the comments below.


Adam Simone is the creator of INDITE a notebook designed specifically for writers. INDITE is currently crowdfunding on Indeigogo (you can check it out and pre-order the book here. When he’s not writing he’s running a consumer-goods startup in Pittsburgh and likes helping people build things. Feel free to reach out to Adam on Twitter (@admsimone).

  • Great advice. There is nothing worse than spending an evening “writing” and having nothing to show for it. Eliminating online access for a writing session is one of the most effective things to do. Even if it’s difficult and you might need to get online to research something, you can always add a (research this) tag to the scene and look it up later.

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